Here’s a suggested experiment for managers: forget about innovation.
Lots of people will be horrified at this suggestion believing it’s vital for senior managers to drive innovation in organisations.
In my experience pressure from on high to come up with ideas usually just stops people from expressing them.
That’s partly because of the corrosive effects of power, which seems to lead to all manner of uncomfortable forms of compliance and deference, as well documented by Bob Sutton here: It isn’t just a myth, power turns people into assholes.
(Coincidentally, Richard Oliver has been recalling the benefits of management by absence.)
It’s also because I think the demand for innovation tends to reflect a scarcity model of the world, as if there aren’t nearly enough ideas out there. I’d argue there’s no shortage of ideas, but a serious, if all too human tendency, not to notice them. What’s more, that scarcity mindset contributes to often futile “brainstorming” games in which loads of ideas get generated that no-one actually cares about.
Instead, why not talk a little about the things you notice and care about, and listen a lot for what other people notice and care about. Once people talk about the concrete things of their experience, it’s actually pretty natural for ideas for improvement to emerge.
But all this high status talk about driving innovation probably just makes people nervous and simply more reluctant to talk about real needs and concerns.
And my advice to anyone with the job title “Head of Innovation” would be: get a new job title.